LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoir of John Murray
Chap. XXXV.

Vol. 1 Contents
Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
Chapter XIII.
Chapter XIV.
Chapter XV.
Chapter XVI.
Chapter XVII.
Chapter XVIII.
Chapter XIX.
Vol. 2 Contents
Chap. XX.
Chap. XXI.
Chap. XXII.
Chap. XXIII.
Chap. XXIV.
Chap. XXV.
Chap. XXVI.
Chap. XXVII.
Chap. XXIX.
Chap. XXX.
Chap. XXXI.
Chap. XXXII.
Chap. XXXIV.
‣ Chap. XXXV.
Chap. XXXVI.
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No account of Mr. Murray’s career would be complete without some mention of the ‘Handbooks,’ with which his name has been for sixty years associated; for though this series was in reality the invention of his son, it was Mr. Murray who provided the means and encouragement for the execution of the scheme, and by his own experience was instrumental in ensuring its success.

An article written by the present Mr. Murray has formed the basis of this chapter, but the information contained therein has been supplemented by extracts from several unpublished letters written by him during his travels in Europe, while he was writing or revising the ‘Handbooks.’

It would perhaps be impossible to say what was the origin of the idea of guide-books for travellers; so far back as 1817 we have seen Mr. Hobhouse, after commenting on the inadequate character of most books of European travel, writing from Italy:—

“If any one writes a book of travels without telling the truth about the masters and the subjects in this most unfortunate country, he deserves more than damnation and a dull sale, and I trust you will take care he has a niche in your temple of infamy, the Quarterly. If any but a gentleman, and a scholar, and an accomplished man in every way presumes to hazard such an undertaking, ‘be ready,’ Mr. Murray, ‘with all your thunderbolts to dash him to pieces.’


“There is a wide field of glory open for any and for all answering the above description: but it would perhaps be almost impossible to find the requisite variety of acquirement and talent in one individual. The work should be done like a cyclopede dictionary, by departments.”

In later years Mrs. Starke made a beginning, but her works were very superficial and inadequate, and after personally testing them on their own ground, Mr. John Murray wrote from Munich, in September 1831:—

“I am very sorry to find that Mrs. Starke has been so precipitate in reprinting her book. The errors in the German part of it are innumerable, and I have taken great pains, ever since I first went abroad to collect information, to improve it. A new and very much improved edition of Reichardt has recently been published. Would it be worth translating, do you think? The last edition, published by Leigh, is perfectly detestable—errors in almost every line.”

Be the origin, however, what it may, there can be no doubt that its development in its present familiar form is due to the present Mr. Murray, who writes:—*

“Since so many thousands of persons have profited by these books, it may be of some interest to the public to learn their origin, and the cause which led me to prepare them. Having from my early youth been possessed by an ardent desire to travel, my very indulgent father acceded to my request, on condition that I should prepare myself by mastering the language of the country I was to travel in. Accordingly, in 1829, having brushed up my German, I first set foot on the Continent at Rotterdam, and my ‘Handbook for Holland’ gives the results of my personal observations and private studies of that wonderful country.

“At that time such a thing as a Guide-book for Germany, France, or Spain did not exist. The only

* See Murray’s Magazine, Nov. 1889.

Guides deserving the name were:
Ebel, for Switzerland; Boyce, for Belgium; and Mrs. Starke for Italy. Hers was a work of real utility, because, amidst a singular medley of classical lore, borrowed from Lempriere’s Dictionary, interwoven with details regulating the charges in washing-bills at Sorrento and Naples, and an elaborate theory on the origin of Devonshire Cream, in which she proves that it was brought by Phoenician colonists from Asia Minor into the West of England, it contained much practical information gathered on the spot. But I set forth for the North of Europe unprovided with any guide, excepting a few manuscript notes about towns and inns, &c., in Holland, furnished me by my good friend Dr. Somerville, husband of the learned Mrs. Somerville. These were of the greatest use. Sorry was I when, on landing at Hamburg, I found myself destitute of such friendly aid. It was this that impressed on my mind the value of practical information gathered on the spot, and I set to work to collect for myself all the facts, information, statistics, &c., which an English tourist would be likely to require or find useful. I travelled thus, note-book in hand, and whether in the street, the Eilwagen, or the Picture Gallery, I noted down every fact as it occurred. These note-books (of which I possess many dozens) were emptied out on my return home, arranged in Routes, along with such other information as I could gather on History, Architecture, Geology, and other subjects suited to a traveller’s need; and, finally, I submitted them to my father. He had known nothing of my scheme, but thought my work worth publishing, and gave it the name of ‘Handbook,’ a title applied by him for the first time to an English book. But these Routes would have been of comparatively little value, except for the principle and plan upon which they were laid down. I had to consult the wants and convenience of travellers in the order and arrangement of my facts. Arriving at a city like Berlin, I had to find out what was really worth seeing there, to make a selection of such objects, and to tell how best to see them, avoiding the ordinary practice of local Guide-books, which, in inflated language, cram in everything that can possibly be said—not bewildering my readers by describing all that might be seen—and using the most condensed and simplest style in description of special objects. I made it my aim to point
out things peculiar to the spot, or which might be better seen there than elsewhere. Having drawn up my Routes, and having had them roughly set in type, I proceeded to test them by lending them to friends about to travel, in order that they might be verified or criticised on the spot. I did not begin to publish until after several successive journeys and temporary residences in Continental cities, and after I had not only traversed beaten Routes, but explored various districts into which my countrymen had not yet penetrated.

“I began my travels not only before a single railway had been begun, but while North Germany was yet ignorant of Macadam. The high road from Hamburg to Berlin, except the first 16 miles, which had been engineered and macadamised by an uncle of mine by way of example to the departments of Ponts et Chaussées, was a mere wheel track in the deep sand of Brandenburg. The postilion who drove the miscalled Schnellpost had to choose for himself a devious course amidst the multitude of ruts and big boulders of which the sand was full, and he consumed two days and a night on the dreary journey. In those days the carriage of that country (the Stuhlwagen ) was literally a pliable basket on wheels, seated across, which bent in conformity with the ruts and stones it had to pass over. . . . I was among the first to descend the Danube from Pesth to Orsova below Belgrade, near the spot where the river, having previously spread out to a width of five miles, is compelled to contract to 300 or 400 yards, in order to rush through a narrow gorge, or defile, split right through the range of the Carpathians, for its escape towards the Black Sea. In a timber barge I swept over the reefs and whirlpools in its bed, not yet fit for steamers to pass, admiring the wondrous precipices descending vertically to the water’s edge, as far as to the Iron Gate. All this is described for the first time in my Handbook, as well as the ‘writing on the wall’ left by the Romans under Trajan, in the shape of two rows of put-lock holes, continued for 12 miles along the face of the precipice, made for the wooden balcony road by which the invincible Romans had rendered this ‘impasse’ passable and practicable for their armies. It is worthy of remark that from the days of Barbarian invasion which swept away the road, none other existed on this spot until 1834-35, when the Austrian Government blasted a highway through the
limestone cliff along the left bank of the Danube. My explorations ended at the Turkish frontier of Wallachia, which was not to be overstepped in those days without the penalty of six weeks in quarantine. I had already passed the Hungarian military frontier, and its line of outposts like our coastguard, and had penetrated into Carinthia and Carniola, where I visited the almost unknown cave of Adelsberg, with its subterannean lakes and fish without eyes, and I descended the quicksilver mine of Idria, in which it is death to work more than six hours in a week underground. I have especial pleasure in remembering that the first description, in English, of the Dolomite Mountains of Tyrol, not a scientific one (
Murchison and Sedgwick were before me), appeared in my ‘South Germany,’ first edition. I explored those scenes of grandeur in company with a geological friend in 1831-32. Thousands of my countrymen now follow my advice and my footsteps yearly.”

While the younger Mr. Murray was the originator and author of the well-known ‘Guides,’ it is to his father that the familiar name of ‘Handbook’ is due, as well as the uniform red cover which has become the badge of the British traveller.

The following extracts from Mr. John Murray’s letters home tell their own tale, and any comment on them would be superfluous. In these days, when every accessible corner of Europe may be said to have a special literature of its own, it is interesting to look back and realize what were the difficulties and discomforts which beset a traveller half a century ago.

It is further interesting to note that the ‘Handbooks’ were not the work of a mere stay-at-home student, but of one who determined to leave no stone unturned in acquiring a personal knowledge of the districts he was engaged in describing.

Mr. Murray’s companions on his principal journeys were
Mr. Wm. Brockedon, the artist, or Mr. Torrie, a nephew of Professor Jamieson, whose Geological lectures Mr. Murray had attended while a student at Edinburgh University.

These extracts have been selected as being fair specimens of a large mass of correspondence, written by Mr. John Murray to his family during his journeys abroad.

Bordeaux, Hotel de France, July 9th, 1830.

“My first halt after Marseilles was made at Aix; the place is not interesting, but the neighbourhood is, from a Geological point of view, which was my object in remaining there a night and a day. . . . A walk of about a league all the way up hill under a très grand soleil, brought me to the scene of action, a mine from which gypsum is extracted for making plaster-of-Paris. I descended and remained sometime in the subterranean passages, which I found agreeably cool. I was told by the workmen that the place was quite overrun with mice, which is curious, considering that their only means of support consists in the droppings of oil from the lamps of the miners, and an accidental crust of bread skilfully extracted from the pocket of a jacket by chance thrown off to facilitate the labours of its owner. From these quarries, which were explored two years ago by Messrs. Murchison and Lyell, I procured some curious specimens of fossil fish and insects, which I am bringing along with me. . . .”

Venice, August 7th, 1831.

“. . . Last night I made an excursion to the Armenian convent on the Island of San Lazzaro, to visit the Padre Pasquale Aucher, he had not by any means forgotten you, and asked very kindly after you. He conducted us over the convent, snowing us the library in which Lord Byron used to receive his lessons from him. He has recently had for pupils Lord and Lady William Russell, to the former he has dedicated a translation of Milton’sParadise Lost’ which he has recently made, and which has been printed at the press of the convent. This he also showed to us. I should fear that this, though perhaps a useful, is not a very profitable part of the establishment. He lastly brought us
seats in the neat little garden, which has been formed in the space enclosed by the cloisters (here coffee and lemonade was prepared for us), entertaining us in the meantime with his very agreeable conversation. He continues to speak English very well, and is warm in praise of the whole nation, with the exception of
Lady Morgan, who has lugged him into her ‘Italy’ rather unceremoniously. One occurrence only he said had given him annoyance during his visit to London, that was the being mistaken for one of the witnesses against the Queen, whose trial was going on at the time: considering the Father’s reverend station, together with the gravity of his long beard, this was a most unlucky mistake. However he was enabled to make it understood that though he came from Venice, he was not asked to leave, and had no knowledge of the business. He is aware that a preface was written by Lord Byron for the Armenian Grammar: it was suppressed at Father Pasquale’s request because it contained some very strong passages against the Sultan, the Sovereign of his native country, who might easily have retorted on his friends and kindred for such an insult. He has given me a copy of his Armenian Milton for you, together with his own portrait. He received us with a kindness and good nature which was the more remarkable, as he is, I fancy, very much pestered with visits from English people, and especially in our case, as I found that our visit was paid at an hour when, by the convent regulations, the door ought to have been shut, and at last he was obliged fairly to turn us out and the key upon us.”

Salzburg, August 20th, 1831.

“. . . My last letter was put into the post at Laibach, as I was unluckily too late to despatch it from Trieste. We left the latter place yesterday week; before I set out I had the satisfaction of being introduced to Lord Byron’s friend, Mr. Barry of Genoa, who has lately come to reside at Trieste. As soon as I heard his name I exerted myself to find him out; he was in bed, unwell, but got up on hearing my name, but on this account I was obliged to curtail my visit. He was very civil, showed me some of Byron’s letters and papers, among them one written by Lord Byron in Fletcher’s name, giving a ludicrous account of his own death, addressed to Hobhouse as being one of his executioners.
He describes his master’s patience on his death-bed; he only d——d his friends once or twice, and wished that
Kinnaird’s Play might be d——d as well as himself. Barry has, I believe, the last letter Byron ever wrote, dated April 9, also a miniature taken at Genoa—in which he is represented thin and wan-looking, wearing a foraging cap with a gold band, and a plaid (the Gordon) jacket.”

Munich, August 31st, 1831.

“. . . . From Salzburg we took the Vienna road in order to reach the fall of the Traun, which Sir H. Davy had already brought into notice in England. We found the road crowded with people hastening from Vienna, evidently in alarm for the cholera, which at one time was supposed to have actually made its appearance in that city, several persons having died suddenly and of very suspicious cholics. The retreat of the Imperial family to Schonbrun also probably strengthened the report, though I believe it was unfounded. The terror of the disease is spreading through Germany. Within these few days a cordon has been established on the Bavarian border, and had we been at Vienna we should certainly not have been allowed to pass through it. The Austrian Government, in their paternal care for the people, have published a paper of advice, recommending frequency of ablutions, both of person and habitation, and to abstain from butter, old cheese, green apples, and things sour. I suppose there have been nearly a hundred different brochures published respecting this pestilence. Remedies of all sorts have been put forth, one of which is no other than Dr. Sangrado’s vizpine water, and not a few are collections of prayers for the aversion of the calamity. Those which are good are almost entirely indebted to English publications for their matter. The experience of German physicians confirms the notion of its being epidemic (conveyed by air), and no cordon, however strong, has as yet stood against it. Its ravages in Hungary are said to be terrible. The peasants there are neither clean nor well fed; they are very closely packed in their houses, and generally there is no more than one medical man to attend to a population of eight or ten thousand. . .”

Munich, September 18, 1831.

“I see that the news of the cholera being at Vienna is contradicted, the cases of sickness which have occurred there turn out to be of a different character, and health passports are again issued to travellers. The precautions taken by the Government are quite wonderful. There is an overseer appointed to every house in Vienna who daily goes over them, sees that they are regularly fumigated, and gives to each individual a drop of some preparation.”

Munich, October 1st, 1831.

“Within the last fortnight Munich has been gradually filling with refugees flying before the cholera. Though the information respecting Vienna in my last was correct, yet it appears a wonderful change took place two days afterwards. After a remarkable storm of rain, which lasted forty-eight hours, with great violence, the cholera, which to all appearance had been smothered, burst forth with great fury. The newspapers will inform you of the number of deaths which, however, considering the population, is not very great. It has not yet made much progress on its way hither, and probably will not arrive here before Christmas. The Government, however, have long since begun to take precaution against it, and the shop windows are filled with broad belts of flannel, called cholera belts, which are intended to be tied round the stomach as a preventive. Among the illustrious refugees is the Vienna Baron Rothschild, who seems to take great care of himself, never going out, even in the hot weather, which we have at present, without his great-coat; but he is evidently prepared to cut and run on the first alarm. The hotel was thrown into great confusion last week by the announcement that a Polish nobleman with a family, a train of thirty persons, were to arrive on a stated day. At the appointed time they made their appearance in the town; landaus with imperials above and coffers below; lacqueys behind and before; barouches, britskas, and chaises; a complete caravan dislodged from their quarters in an Austrian halting-place, by this formidable foe. It is said that Prince Metternich’s family is expected.”

Liege, November 6th, 1833.

“Early next morning we crossed the frontier of Bavaria, which in this part appears a dull country, previous to reaching Passau, the situation of which town, at the junction of the Inn with the Danube, hemmed in by commanding heights, is remarkable. You will imagine what are the désagrémens of travelling in this part of the Continent when I tell you that, among other things, the coach constantly stops in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, at a place where it is met by a cross coach coming from a different quarter, and in consequence of the irregularity of travelling, it is detained at this inconvenient time for two or three hours. This happened to us at Ratisbon; here the coach arrived at about half-past three in the morning; our slumbers were all broken, and we were turned out into the room of a dreary inn, to wait till seven. It was useless to think of going to bed, and absurd to go out in the dark, so I awaited the approach of day in a sort of half-dose. Just because it was wanted, the sun delayed his appearance for about an hour longer than usual, and when he did appear, did little good, owing to the thick mist which lay heavily over the town, and reminded me almost of a London fog. I groped my way in the dark to the old cathedral, where the priest was mumbling matins to a few old women, over several of whom I stumbled. The uncertain light of a few tapers, aided by the approaching dawn, enabled me to form some notion of the grandeur of the building, and also to examine the exterior of the old town hall, which is only remarkable for being in former days the meeting-house of the German Diet.”

Cologne, Sunday, August 30th, 1834.

“I pushed on to Spa by a new road, and another beautiful valley, that of the Vesdre. Spa is out of fashion; the English have deserted it for the Brunnen of Nassau, and Leopold has not patronised it as the King of Holland used to do. It is, however, a pretty spot, and interesting from the recollections of our forefathers who used to visit it; indeed, it is from this place that all mineral springs, even down to the Beulah, get the name of Spa. I wished to see
the routine of the bather’s life; but no sooner had I arrived than it was dinned into my ears that an Englishman had just made an important discovery of a cave with stalactites which was a kind of world wonder! Upon the strength of this, I hired a horse after dinner, and, taking a guide to show me the way, set out over a horrid cross road a distance of nine miles. It was dusk when I arrived; a boy was sent with me as a guide, bearing a candle. We passed through an old cave or grotto, which has been known for some years, till at last the boy, stopping at a crack or gash in the floor, said, ‘There, that is the way into the new grotto’; and, taking up a stone, he let it fall into the cleft. After some minutes, down it came with a splash into the water. The fellow then said, ‘Ah, I have been once, and I don’t intend to go again; will you go?’ With such a useful companion in case of need, and my own bad eyesight, I did not care to run the risk, so I returned. At the mouth of the cave I met a large party, consisting of the discoverer himself, an Englishman of the strange name of Hoy, his servant, an artist, and many guides. I immediately spoke to them, and asked if I might accompany them, to which Mr. H. consented. I went back to a sort of inn, borrowed a blouse, and bespoke a bed, knowing that the Englishman intended to pass some hours in the cave. When we reached the hole, I found, by the aid of several lights, the top of a ladder just peeping out of the bottom of it, so that resting my hands on each side of the cleft, I could just reach it with the end of my toe. The descent was not, after all, so very difficult or dangerous, only the hole is at present so narrow that there is not room for the body to pass through along with the ladder, so that you can only put one foot upon it at first, and swing the body round, and cling by the hands till the narrow gap is passed. The worst was that, after all this—after tumbling over rocks, climbing through a passage, in one place so low that for twenty yards it was necessary to crawl, not on all fours, but on my belly—after scrambling over a subterranean river, and nearly breaking my leg in a hole, into which it was fortunate my body did not go, along with the other leg—the cave was no great thing to see after all; but perhaps I am no judge, having seen Adelsberg, the finest cave in the world. Still, there are a few fine stalactites in this, and I was amused with the adventure. As soon as I
had satisfied my curiosity, having been nearly three hours underground exploring the passages—so extensive are they—I took my leave, and—as I was very anxious to get back in time to see the Redoute at Spa that night—set out over the moors and through the dark lanes, with nothing to light me but the stars above and the glow-worms beneath, after the wind had blown out the lanthorn which was given to my guide at the inn. The road was so bad by day that there were very few places where one could trot, so you may suppose we could not make rapid progress in the dark. We did not get back till half-past eleven, when the Redoute was shut, and nearly all Spa in bed.”

Bourges, August 12th, 1841.

“Angers, where my journey ended, is a very antique town, and pleased me much, though modern improvements, quays, and houses looking like bandboxes from their whiteness and newness, are destroying in part its original character. Besides the cathedral full of painted glass, here is one of the sternest, loftiest, largest, and best-preserved castles I ever saw. Its seventeen towers, built of slate and layers of white stone, which make them look as though hooped round, rise 80 feet above the river, separated by a yawning fosse from the rest of the town. They show you within it the remains of the palace where good King Rene (see ‘Quentin Durward’), father of Margaret of Anjou, was born, and in the Devil’s Tower the oubliettes down which prisoners were cast. Here also, beside the castle, is the old Military Academy—now degraded to a barrack, and its curious carvings of houses, coats of arms, &c., defaced—where the Duke of Wellington was educated. From Angers, which lies on a tributary of the Loire, I travelled by land, but I soon came on the prettiest part of that river, near Saumur, passing upon the top of a lofty dike extending as far as Orleans, raised long ago to repress the river. Acacia-hedges, vines, and walnut-trees, with orchards and rich crops of corn, cover the country. Saumur also has a castle, which, together with its houses, is white, while the general character of Angers is black, so it makes a pleasing and smiling contrast. Near this I saw one of the most curious Druidical remains in France; a hut or house formed of huge blocks of unhewn stone placed
upright to form the walls, with others laid flat above for the roof, just as you would make a house of cards. . . . I turned aside to Fontevrault, memorable as the burial-place of our Kings
Richard Cœur de Lion and his father Henry II. The vast church in which they lie, situated in a quiet valley, was, as usual, pillaged and ransacked at the Revolution, and these statues, interesting as portraits, were torn from their tombs and broken. They now lie in a dark corner with mutilated visages and broken noses, enclosed by bolts and bars and grilles, for the church has been converted into a prison, which is much to be deplored. After having come a considerable distance on a cab, hired expressément, I was very nearly turned away by the pert daughter of the gaoler, who shut the gate in my face, because the Minister of the Interior had lately published an ordinance prohibiting visitors entering prisons; but by perseverance, and explaining that I did not care a fig for the prisoners, but only for the chapel, I won my way.

“My day’s journey ended at Chinon, a little town on the River Vienne, with a castle of enormous extent, now one vast heap of ruins, but originally the residence of our Kings Henry II. and Richard I., who held it as Counts of Anjou, and afterwards of the Kings of France. It stands on a most commanding platform of rock, divided into three parts by very deep fosses cut in the rock. In one pile of crumbling, roofless walls, where the position of once-stately rooms without number is shown by broken chimneys and windows, tradition has recorded that Joan of Arc was first introduced to Charles VII., and, distinguishing him from among his courtiers, led him to the recess in the thickness of the wall, apart from the rest, where she revealed to him things which the chroniclers say convinced him of her mission from heaven. Here are many dungeon towers in which the Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, and the four chiefs of the order may have lingered; and from another tower ran a secret passage by which Charles VII. visited his mistress, Agnes Sorel, in the house which he had built for her outside the walls. At Tours I was in the land of ‘Quentin Durward,’ and one of my first proceedings was to visit the house of Tristan l’Hermite—the hangman of Louis XI.—in one of its narrow streets; it is a curious building, certainly, of that time, but I believe the chief authority for attributing it to that
personage is, that along its brick walls, among the ornaments of its windows and doors, runs a rope, well-carved, twisted at intervals into a very pretty knot remarkably like the noose of a halter. I climbed up to the top of its turret stair, which, rising above the neighbouring houses, curiously enough commands a view of Louis XI.’s residence, Plessis-les-Tours. To that ill-omened house of horrors, of bigotry and wickedness, I next walked; all its fosses and walls, watch-towers and pitfalls, so well described by
Sir Walter Scott, have disappeared under the plough; and the castle itself (a very small fragment of which only remains, converted into a dwelling, with a tower stair at one corner), so far from possessing either the picturesque or frowning aspect of a castle, is a mean, red-brick house, with a tiled roof nearly as high as its walls, and large sash-windows groined with stone. Yet this was the style of building at the period, partly corresponding with that of Hampton Court. However, at the end of the garden I was shown one vaulted dungeon in which the lady of the house told me was Cardinal Balue’s prison, and her little daughter conducted me to a neighbouring cottage, where, in an outhouse lumbered with empty casks, I discovered a small vaulted chapel, where, doubtless, Louis used to say some of his numerous prayers. To give an idea of his religious notions, here is a specimen I lately met with. I do not think it is mentioned in the novel. It is written from Plessis to the Prior of a distant church: ‘Maître Pierre, mon ami, je vous prie, comme je puis, de prier incessamment Dieu et Notre Dame de Sales que leur plaisir soit de m’envoyer la fièvre quarte, car j’ai une maladie dont les physiciens disent que je ne puis guérir sans l’avoir, et quand je l’aurai je vous le ferai savoir incontinent.’ He probably had his wish, for a little while after he writes to beg the Prior will pray our Lady of Sales ‘qu’elle me donne guérison parfaite.’”

Bayonne, August 28th, 1841.

“. . . My companion and I have just returned from making a dash into Spain! This will probably surprise you, as I gave you no previous notice, but as the scheme was of my suggesting, I did not know whether Torrie would
like it; he however was nothing loath, and I am happy to say the expedition has turned out successfully and afforded both of us much pleasure. As the inducements to the journey, besides that of having a glimpse of a country and people entirely new to us, I may mention my desire to explore the farthest roots of the Pyrenees on the W., where they push themselves into the sea, and to visit the extreme S.W. country of France, a district not yet
Trollopized, and indeed scarcely described by any English traveller, but interesting as being the country of the Basques. I had also some curiosity to see the effects which war leaves upon a country, the frontier of Spain bordering on France, being as you know, the battle-field of the late war between Carlists and Christines, and I return blessing the happy star which exempts our little island from the horrors of such a scourge. The sight of it would do good to Joseph Hume, and all such as vote against our Army and Navy Estimates, which, under Providence, have the effect of keeping all enemies at a distance from our door. We quitted this place (where there is little to be seen except the Adour river, which the Duke of Wellington’s army crossed a mile below the town, just out of reach of the guns of the citadel, one of the strongest in France) yesterday morning, on the top of a diligence which runs from this to St. Sebastian, established within the last eight months; all communication having been stopped while the war lasted. The little river Bidassoa, which the Duke of Wellington crossed also in his triumphant entrance into France from Spain, driving Marshal Soult before him, divides the two countries. A little below the bridge is an earth bank tufted with grass, a mere strip of ground on which one or two cows were feeding, called Ile des Faisans, memorable because upon it, as a piece of neutral ground, Cardinal Mazarin and the Spanish General Haro negotiated the marriage of Louis XIV. A pavilion was erected in the centre, and approaches were made from both sides by bridges for the Ambassadors and their suites to meet. Inundations have carried off a large part of the isle, which has also been cut and pared by the peasants in order to lay the earth on their fields, so that in a few years probably it will not exist. Scarcely had we passed beyond the fortified house—flanked with loop-holes and trussed by enormous stone buttresses at the end of the bridge, forming
the Spanish Custom House, and guarded by soldiers of that country, who, in their blue uniforms and white duck trousers and gaiters, look neater than the French—than we began to see traces of the war in ruined houses; and on the approach to Irun, the first village about two miles off, we passed a large house of rude masonry by the roadside, the lower windows of which were built up with stones so as to leave only a narrow loop-hole in the middle to fire through. It formed a fore-post for General Evans, who finally succeeded in taking the town. Some of the most conspicuously placed houses in Irun are literally peppered and pocked from top to bottom with shot-marks, while in others the damage is concealed by a coat of whitewash, serving, as a Spanish cloak often does, to conceal rags and rents below it.

* * * *

“The postilions who drove us had in one or two instances been out with Don Carlos—one still wore the military great-coat bearing C.V. buttons now turned into a boxcoat; they urge on their horses and mules—for both occur mixed in one team—by calling each by its name and scolding them with volleys of Spanish oaths—quite different from and twice as bad as the French. To complete the contrast, and fully assure us we were in Spain, we had not advanced eight miles before out started from among a party of peasants assembled by the roadside, on the approach of our conveyance, a pair of wild-looking but athletic fellows in blue caps and blouses, with heavy guns slung behind their backs, and ran by the roadside for a whole stage keeping up with the horses. These were miquellates, or police officers appointed to escort and protect us from robbers—as in the present state of the country there are many wild fellows about, and the Zaragossa diligence was robbed a few days ago to a very large amount, taken from the different passengers. In our case there appeared to be no risk of such an adventure; but really the country seems made for robbery and war, a very thieves’ Paradise. The houses, great, heavy, square flat-roofed buildings with thick walls and small windows, are ready-made forts, every little window commanding the road looks like a loop-hole, and the country is so tossed about with hills, enclosed with winding, defile valleys, having sudden turns, so scattered with mounds and banks, and sprinkled with tufts, bushes,
hedges, and bits of old wall—an ambuscade might be formed at every five yards. . . . After toiling up a long and very steep ascent we came in sight of St. Sebastian—the Gibraltar of the north of Spain—a tall, rocky eminence, with a crown of embrazured walls bristling with cannon on its top, rising out of the sea in the middle of a bay, which extends two hilly arms on either side. A tongue of sand, along which the road is carried, joins the rock to the land, and at the end of the causeway, which every advancing tide contracts in width to a musket-shot, lies the small town, nestling under the tall rock and also surrounded by very strong and lofty fortifications. Its aspect as you descend the hill towards the sea is very striking, but our attention was partly withdrawn from it by the objects in the fore-ground. The whole slope of the bay towards the fortress, forming a curve of high hills extending for five or six miles, is sprinkled over with cottages and convents, and with the exception of one or two which have been repaired or rebuilt in the last eighteen months, not one remains entire; the roofs smashed in or entirely gone, the inside gutted of every bit of timber, with heaps of stones, already grass-grown, lying where once were hearthstones and chambers; the windows empty or built up with loopholes; the outer walls scarified by shot, except where some cannon-ball or shell had gone clean through, leaving either a hole or prostrating the walls entirely. Such is the aspect of the country within a radius of three miles from St. Sebastian—such the consequences of war. These houses were good points for annoying the fortress, and were on this account occupied by the Carlists in besieging it; they, dislodged by its cannon, were sometimes buried under the ruins, but always burning or gutting the habitation before they quitted it.”

Barrèges, September 7th, 1841.

“. . . . It happens that the watering-places of the Pyrenees are so placed as to form excellent halting-places for mere tourists, while in passing from one to the other, or in short excursions, you see all the finest scenery. The number of English we have seen here is remarkably small, I cannot help thinking because so little is known of the country. There is literally no tolerable guide. I know no district so destitute, and we are obliged to feel our way at every step by gleaning oral information. Torrie is a most invaluable
and delightful companion. It is like seeing with another pair of eyes to have him at my elbow, and it is not a little agreeable to revive old recollections and associations of former journeys. After having been so many years separated, there was yet a question, on once more travelling together, how far our tastes might agree. The result has proved that no change has occurred, and he has so much good sense and good temper that it is impossible, I am sure, to find a more agreeable companion. Owing to his long illness, however, he still feels the effects of his rheumatism in his knees to such an extent that he cannot take very long walks, so that we have hitherto not made any arduous expeditions. The longest walk we have taken was from Cauterets to a small lake called Lac de Gaube, about twelve miles there and back, through fine scenery, but up hill all the way. The lake has a melancholy interest from the death of a newly-married English pair—who arriving at this lonely spot, where there is only a solitary fishing hut. in the absence of the fisherman got into his wretched ticklish canoe for a row—when in the middle of the lake the boat upset, how, no one knows—and they were drowned, without any eye to mark their fate even. In toiling up the steep path, Torrie’s sharp eye discovered the recent footmarks of a bear’s paws, claw and heel as distinct as possible imprinted probably not more than three or four hours before. Snow had fallen in the night, which had probably caused Bruin to descend lower than usual in search of food. We made the pretty little village of Luz our headquarters for a day or two, on account of its central situation for making several excursions. The chief of these is to the Cirque de Gavarnie, distant about fifteen miles. We set out on horseback soon after six, with a guide, Jacques, recommended by our worthy little fat landlady, Madame Caseaux, who gives almost the best dinners to be found in the Pyrenees.

“Favoured by brilliant sunshine and fresh morning air, we toiled up the valley, past the edge of precipices, down which the eye looked plump 250 or 300 feet into the green and frothy river, agonized within the narrow cleft, barely opened for it between the rocks; below, we trotted over many narrow bridges of planks, suspended over gulfs and cataracts, and galloped by waterfalls innumerable, many of them bestridden by water-mills four or five in a row, not
much larger than boxes, looking at a distance like beads on a white thread. About half-way in descending a hill towards a village called Gedres, where the gorge expands into a basin-shaped valley, we had a fine view of the mountain called Marboré, which rises above the Cirque de Gavarnie, all covered with snow, and beside it we saw equally clearly the far-famed Brèche de Roland. This is a square gap in the wall of rock, forming the crest of the mountain, and made by the Paladin en Chef Orlando, with one smashing blow of his sword when he passed over into Spain to fight the Moors. We pulled up and eyed it attentively; I with my glass. From where we stood it looked a mere notch, or like the gap left in an otherwise well-filled jaw, by the loss of a single tooth. Yet we gazed on it with interest from the story, and its name, and its great elevation, 9000 feet above the sea, and
Torrie advised me to make the ascent, he of course, not being equal to it. The idea had occurred to me already; the ambition of the exploit, and my desire to benefit the readers of the ‘Handbook’ (should there be any readers) prevailed, and I proposed to our guide. The suggestion came unexpectedly upon him. We had started one hour and a half too late, he said, and it would take four hours’ hard climbing from the foot of the ascent. In short he seemed very lukewarm. Still the ascent was at once decided on. At Gavarnie we were provided with crampons, spikes for the feet, and with spiked batons, which a wild dishevelled lass bore, scampering after our ponies about three miles from the village as far as the Cirque. This is a natural amphitheatre, surrounded not by mountains, as valleys commonly are, but by a circle of precipices, rising like a wall on all sides, save one where there is a break to let out the river formed by the drainage of many glaciers, and of twelve or sixteen streamlets which descend over the walls of rock in falls like white strings. In the Cirque of Gavarnie, its walls are divided into three or four steps or terraces, and between each terrace is a glacier of ice and snow heaped up—the whole surmounted by numerous sharp snowy peaks. As a scale to show you the dimensions of the Cirque, there is one fall which descends in one white cord, down the face of a precipice 1200 to 1400 feet high. Yet there is a singular ocular deception; you arrive at the entrance, and think the waterfall close at hand, but you toil on over rough fallen stones
and glacier for nearly half an hour before you reach its foot, the distance being a long mile. I have now got to the foot of the mountain, and the very verge of my paper, and in consequence must break off; but I promise to continue my narrative immediately on another sheet.”

With regard to the following letter, the reader must bear in mind that it was written sixteen years before the Alpine Club came into existence, at a time when the science of mountaineering, as now understood and practised, was in its earliest infancy.

Bagnères de Bigorre, September 8th, 1841.

“Before quitting the village of Gavarnie, by Tome’s advice I fortified myself with breakfast—some trout and a very tough chop, washed down with a small quantity of red wine and water, but the wine being very bad, I did not take much of it. “But,” you exclaim, “you have brought us to the foot of the mountain; why don’t you carry us up?” The fact is, I cannot see my way up, and neither you, nor any other person, coming to the Cirque for the first time, would divine that there was any way up. It is all wall and precipice, perpendicular all the way round. Jacques, however—the sturdy guide of eighteen years’ standing, who has been up to the Brèche twice this year, and four or five times last, and more than forty times in his life—is leading the way steadily over stripes of dirty glacier and heaps of pointed stones fallen from above since the Creation, and perhaps part before it, while the world was a chaos. He, however, makes steadily for the right-hand corner, picking his way where no path is visible, to a slightly-projecting buttress of rock, seemingly as abrupt and vertical as any other part. Here, however, he commences literally escalading the precipice, and as the undertaking is now not to be avoided—no shirking, your humble servant set to work in earnest to imitate Jacques, and find his way. Where we began, the rock is literally a sheer wall; but, being composed of shivery limestone—a kind of slate—it breaks off into splintery edges, which serve, with care, as steps. I do not profess to be especially courageous, or provided with strong nerve, or endowed with remarkable strength or
steadiness of head, and felt it was only by firmly riveting my attention to the object before me, the very spot on which I was to place my foot, that I could avoid the distraction and tendency to giddiness produced by a sheer glance down a precipice hundreds of feet beneath me. In many places the steps were very wide apart, or instead of a projection offering a hold for the foot, nothing but a smooth space of slate presented itself; now and then my blindness prevented my discovering the proper steps, and I then had to feel my way, aided by the guide’s instruction, and grasping firm hold by the hands of some projection above. Here the spiked pole was much in the way, and I was tempted to throw it aside—it was well I did not. The guide made his way steadily upwards, putting one foot before the other in the same even steps, as though regularly beating time, but always ascending, sometimes up a steep bank of greensward, at another up a projecting buttress of the limestone rock, the strata of which, being almost vertical, resembled the leaves of a book, only quite ragged round the edges. In this way we toiled up for two good hours—of incessant hard staircase work without intermission of level ground. The heat was intense, and I felt a constant throbbing in the drums of my ears; once or twice we stopped to draw breath, and it was a glorious sight to look around upon the Cirque, and the snowy ridges surmounting it; it was a glorious sight now to look down upon the precipices and waterfalls beneath my feet, which just before I had gazed up at with aching head.

“After each twenty minutes of hard toil I looked round upon the great waterfall, the 1200 feet cascade, as a measure of my own progress in ascending—and it was a tough job to get the mastery of him, and look down upon him, I assure you. The only sound in this wilderness hitherto had been the murmur of these falling waters, but about twelve, when the sun had become powerful, a distant report like thunder attracted my attention, followed by another; it was the roar of the avalanches stirred by the heat, and a very respectable broadside the Pyrenees kept up that afternoon, not much inferior to the Alps.

“At the height we had now attained—about 1500 feet from the bottom of the rock—we were met by the cold wind from the glacier, and very refreshing it was, I assure
you. Below us still yawned the gaping Cirque, apparently so close under our feet that we might throw a stone into it. The guide traced
Torrie’s progress along the bottom, but he was reduced to such an emmet in the depth below that my eyes could not discover him. Above our heads now opened out a wide expanse of snow and glacier, covering a very steep slope, and surmounted by the ridge of rock in which is the rent of Roland’s Brèche. The glacier is a high steep plane, like the roof of a house, and the most difficult part of the task is to ascend it. I sat down on the last rock rising, as it were, on the shore of this sea of ice, and after the guide had tied the crampons very firmly upon my feet, I grasped my pole and started. I was very tired by this time, and the steepness, together with the weight of the crampons, to which I was unaccustomed, and the snow hanging to them, rendered it very laborious; add to this, a cold rain and sleet came on, which made the snow and ice still more slippery and the foothold more difficult. As I toiled on, keeping as well as I could nearly up with the guide, and treading in his footsteps, two other travellers, who had started some hours before us, passed us, swiftly descending. How I envied them; but half-an-hour’s good hard work still remained for me. From the slipperiness of the snow (which had recently fallen), and the fatigue I felt, my steps no longer continued firm, my feet slipped from under me, and, after one or two slips, down I slid like an arrow, traversing in half a minute what had taken a quarter of an hour to surmount; indeed, I was in a fairway to the bottom of the glacier, but, recollecting some of my Swiss experience, I threw myself on my back, stretched wide my feet, digging in the heels, and driving the spike of my baton deep into the snow, and thus shortly brought myself to an anchor. In an instant Jacques was down from the height he had reached, beside me, and, laying hold of my hand, with stout arm and firm foot soon led me to the top of the ascent. The next stage of the business is to cross another division of the glacier nearly in a straight line, scarcely ascending at all, but the angle at which it lies is very much steeper than that passed already, so that I do not think it would be possible, except for a very skilful mountaineer, to ascend it, and the foot that once slipped in crossing it would go irretrievably to the bottom. Here my guide made me precede him, and gave me special injunctions to lift up my
feet well, and set each foot down with a stamp, so as to make a good hole in the snow, sticking in my pole to a considerable depth before each step, adding after his admonitions, ‘Parcequ’il y a de danger ici.’ This mauvais pas was passed happily, safely, and quickly, and a few steps more brought me within the Brèche de Roland. The little ridge which I had seen below, eight miles off, like the blade of a small saw inserted in a grooved handle, now rose before me a mountainous wall of rock 300 feet high, and about 50 feet thick in the gap. The gap of Roland itself had expanded to a width of 180 feet. Before me, looking through this singular window, was Spain, a most uninviting prospect in the foreground of rugged ridges, and bare mountains, and valleys filled with stones and snow. The horizon, up to which rises the vast plain of Arragon, dimly seen in very clear weather, was now concealed. On the French side the Vignemale, the highest mountain in Southern France, and covered with glaciers, was also partly hidden. But except these all was clear, the sleety rain had ceased, the sun shone brightly forth, and a hundred peaks rose around me. Still, the absorbing feature is the Brèche itself, and the colossal wall, rising so high and so abruptly—literally a wall in proportion to the mountain, with slopes down on both sides like a house-roof. It is like the crested mane rising from the neck of a Grecian horse. The threshold of the Brèche shares in this peculiar character, so that I sat astride of the rocky ridge which forms the boundary line of two mighty kingdoms, with one leg in France and the other in Spain. The gratification of having succeeded, the elasticity of the mountain air, and a crust of bread with a piece of prepared chocolate cake, washed down by a draught from Jacques’ previously-despised wooden bottle, dissipated all fatigue. Jacques was distressed that he had no cup, but one or two good hearty pulls at the bottle-mouth, time about, and a couple of cigaritos—genuine from St. Sebastian—cemented our friendship, and we became great allies. The Brèche, notwithstanding its difficulty of access, serves as a pass from a small Spanish village into France, and my guide pointed out to me a nook in the rock where a flask of wine had been deposited by a party of three wild but handsome and Murillo-ish shepherds, whom we had met conducting two priests.

“We had accomplished the ascent in three hours, the time
usually taken being four; the descent was effected in less than two, which is equally good speed.

“The first glacier was passed slowly and cautiously; the second we glided down in the fashion of a montagne Russe, resting on our spiked staffs to check the rapidity of our progress, I was right glad to get rid of the crampons when beyond the slope. The rest of the descent we leaped, trotted, walked, or scrambled down in the time mentioned, taking our time about those craggy buttresses of precipitous rock. I was surprised to find how nearly the guide followed the same track in descending; though quite imperceptible at a distance to my eye, yet I found myself treading on the very same stones I had trod on in mounting. I had agreed with Torrie that he should ride back to Luz quietly, and await me there, but not be surprised if he did not see me till next morning; but, having got through the walk so well and quickly, and finding my guide true to the backbone, I determined to ride back that night. Accordingly, after half-an-hour’s rest and a cup of coffee at Gavarnie, we were once more on horseback, and in less than three hours’ time the fourteen miles of mountain road was passed, and the courtyard of good and fat Madame Cazeaux’ inn was resounding to the crack of my whip. I was warmly welcomed by Torrie, as you may suppose, and after a supper of tea and fowl, retired to a good sound sleep, with no other discomfort than of considerable chafing, which, considering I do not think I ever rode thirty miles before in one day, was to be expected. The last four or five was in the dark, but I made the guide ride between me and the precipices.”

The first of Mr. John Murray’s Handbooks to the Continent, published 1836, included Holland, Belgium, and North Germany, and was followed at short intervals by South Germany, Switzerland—in which he was assisted by his intimate friend and fellow-traveller, William Brockedon, the artist, who was then engaged in preparing his own splendid work on ‘The Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers of the Alps’—and France. These were all written
by Mr. Murray himself; but, as the series proceeded, it was necessary to call in the aid of other writers and travellers. Switzerland, which appeared in 1838, was followed in 1839 by Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, and in 1840 by the Handbook to the East, the work of Mr. H. Parish, aided by
Mr. Godfrey Levinge. In 1842 Sir Francis Palgrave completed the Guide to Northern Italy, while Central and Southern Italy were entrusted to Mr. Octavian Blewitt, for many years Secretary of the Royal Literary Fund.

This is not the place to give a detailed account of the developments which have been made in this well-known series since the death of the elder Mr. Murray. Suffice it to say, that the originator of the Handbooks has been fortunate enough to secure such able colleagues as Richard Ford for Spain, Sir Gardner Wilkinson for Egypt, Dr. Porter for Palestine, Sir George Bowen for Greece, Sir Lambert Playfair for Algiers and the Mediterranean, and Mr. George Dennis for Sicily, &c.